Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Not Throwing Away My Shot

Life has strange coincidences but I'm just a few days away from when it's been 6 years since the
cancer journey started for me, November 5, 2010. Just by nature of the calendar, it always falls a few days after Halloween and Dia De  Muertos, two days in which the two cultures my childhood was spent in play with death. Like the boogeyman or clowns or murderers, on Halloween we play like we are something like them, that we are just as scary or that perhaps in pretending to be them and handout candy we disempower them. As Kiana and I went trick or treating last night, some people had some very elaborate ways to frighten those who dared to come to their door. There was one Kiana both wanted and didn't want to go see and she looked up at me and said, "You know how you always say you're not sure you want me to grow up, hold my hand and let's go up to that one like I'm a little girl." If that hand holding heated up her hand it was because my  heart had been warmed and warned by that sentiment.

In Latin America, we have the Day of the Dead, a strange dance in Mexico, the country I was born, where we pray, remember, help people along their spiritual journey. Catholicism when it arrived almost anywhere seemed to incorporate the beliefs they found with the truth they proclaimed (some detractors have called that plagiarism at it's finest, defenders have called it clarifying what had been misconstrued). A simple walk through some neighborhoods shows the churches literally built on top of some ancient temples in places. This Aztec/Catholic tradition though is acknowledgement, one that we take so seriously it is  actually a public holiday. It used to be at the end of summer long before I was born but we made it match Halloween in due time even if it was a day apar like Mex-Tex Tacos we turned the candy into our own recipe of elaborate skulls. 

It is a rhythm of costumes and skulls and carved pumpkins and ghosts that comes as I get closer each year as I remember, remember the 5th of November, the day my cancer journey started. People take some of each of these 'holidays' with seriousness and lightheartedness both in acceptance and rejection. I see posts on social media and on the street with people just goofing off with it, people announcing the important of remembering the dead and of people proclaiming the 'truth' about what 'really'happens to dead people from their religious perspective. I take all of that in stride, absorb it all and reflect and on today in particular, I write.

Because I realize that I'm almost 6 years into this cancer journey and I am grateful and haunted. It was only a few days ago that I realized that for the first time since I won the marathon in March of 2013 I had no invitations to speak or race. I joked on social media that I might finally get to retire and both were fixed within 24 hours... no rest for the wicked, weary... which one is it? Retirement didn't last a full day. But I looked back on just the last month alone and continued to accept my fortune.

I looked back at October alone to keep acknowledging my blessings. I long ago said that if not another blessing came I'd give God praise for the balance of my days but they keep coming. I got to go back to Beaumont, that town I won a marathon to give a speech about raising money for Livestrong. I did it with a sad acknowledgement to that the speaker who had been there the year before hadn't made it one year later despite his health was in theory more stable than mine the previous year. This time I got to take Kiana and the girl who loves dressing up got me to do it for a change. 

I looked back at the St. George Marathon where I got to speak and race. Neither of those was the point for the trip. I loved them both but they were the byproduct of a thriller trip. It was one of the most scenic races I ever got to be a part of  and the longest speech I've ever been asked to give. I got to go to Mount Zion and see ancient rocks. I got to have dinner in one of those remarkable coincidences where I'd brought some of home with me but I also had someone there who was present at my first Livestrong Challenge in California, someone who was there at my first race speech in Idaho, someone who was there at my first Spartan Championship Beat in Vermont and we were all just having dinner where they met each other. We were all strangers who had become friends and were just joking over pasta, talking about sports and the weather in St. George, a town that none of us called home when we met. I definitely got a better bond while being there. What are the odds the gods would put us all in one spot?

I looked back at the Livestrong Challenge that the last blog was about. I looked back at the fact that in the 6 weeks previous to the cancer anniversary I had given 6 speeches, done 6 events. In the 6 years I had done 6 Spartan beasts, 6 Livestrong Challenges, 6 Brain Power 5k's. The kid born 8/8/80 can't resist looking for patterns. On that last beast, there were 6 of us doing it friends and family all of which we had known each other essentially if not all of our lives . While they all talked smack before hand I beat them all during but then went back and checked on them at the course, medalling each one that I could. I do enough events where I get called a beast but the Spartan is the toughest thing I do each year so I'm glad it gives me a chance to properly earn the title. But we are beasts that hunt together. Someone recently gave me the analogy of the lion and the dog. When there is someone waving a piece of meat, the dog notices the meat and tries to please the person holding it; the lion notices the person holding it. Maybe this is why this Leon doesn't take many breaks from going from more of the puzzle but perhaps my favorite part is that Leons are part of a group and I'm glad that in all of these events, I have found ways to share them, shall we say I take pride in that. I was amused that where the Spartan is located, a lodge, actually had signs up that said not to go into the hunting area. I don't know whether or not we did or whether we were the hunters or the hunted but we came out still alive. 

I looked back at the Ragnar Relay. We put together a team of all ages but really if I'm honest they were all recruited because of respectable speeds. We would come in 2nd over all and would be the first coed team. 120 miles together through the evening, night and sunrise. It was a really fun night around fire places, s'mores and practical medals. It was funny as I was chatting with someone about how I would bring the things from s'mores I got an auto correct that I would bring the amores. I think we brought the love out there and I think we brought it home. Though maybe my displays of affection are interesting because the happiest I felt out there and the fastest leg I had was one where I tripped in the dark on a branch and got up and powered it all the way to the finish. Perhaps the adrenaline perhaps the rough wake up call in the middle of the night but I'd say my teammates said I came in pumped or on edge or happy and the answer of which one of those it was and I'd say all of them. This lifestyle has kept me tried and tired. Still through it all, people often ask what my results are and I'll give you a simple confession. I have not checked my results a single time this year. Some of that is that almost always people send them to me or someone is there who tell me but on some races I honestly have no clue what they were. I am a kid who was valedictorian for many reasons but primary among those was because i kept track of who I needed to beat. I had some school records as well because I was and am competitive. So it may not make sense to some, myself included why at the end of a race I don't check where I stand. I have no grand explanation other than as I'm almost six years into this cancer journey, I am above all grateful to be still in the runnings. 

There are people who genuinely care about me who think I should take it easy and relax. They see the bruise from the fall in Ragnar, the cut from the rock at the Spartan.  For me taking it easy and relaxing are antonyms. This is how I relax by leaving it out there though there are days where my body does suggest I take it easy. But I still just work off the reality that there will come a time where I'm laid to rest. So the day after Ragnar I go bike 50 plus miles with some Livestrong friends. The day after the Spartan beast Kiana and host a pumpkin carving party where you grab the pumpkin by the face and make it what you want. I often wear a make him work for it shirt, of a runner in front of the grim reaper. The grim reaper eventually catches up to all of us and we turn into dust but why make it easy? On this Halloween, I carved him into a pumpkin and will discard him in the trash on Dia De Los Muertos. You'll get your turn buddy but today, today it's mine. I think that attitude has resulted in me getting showered with goodness.

So what am I doing for the 6th anniversary of my cancer journey this Saturday. I am joining a race, a 10k, 6.2 miles to celebrate 6 years and then some. However it's not going to be a road race, I'm moving over to a single lane trail run, something I hadn't even done less than 2 years ago. Every year I've added a new physical element and kept them, daring to dream that if I keep messing with the system it has to figure out what to do with this new energy being channeled elsewhere and that the ones for the cancer cells can't have any chance of having fuel to grow. There will come a time where I return to dust but my hope is that on November 5 I'm kicking it back through some trails. 

But don't worry I still fuel up because afterwards I'm grabbing dessert with my friend Todd. At one of my speeches during the Q&A, someone asked if getting cancer had changed my diet. I said that I usually ate pretty healthy but that was primarily for athletic reasons not 'health' reasons. However after getting cancer I have dessert more often since the disease I have has no known dietary, genetic, lifestyle or environmental components. If I'm really not likely to be 40, you better believe I'm having dessert once in a while. Like last night when I made sure to test that some of Kiana's Halloween trick or treating wasn't poisoned by trying it first. Man I am a good dad ;). We had some fun for Halloween last night with the first time we ever coordinated costumes. She went as a pirate and I went as her missing eye. I'll keep watching out for the things she doesn't see as long as both life and her are kind enough to let me. 

The title of today's entry come from the song My Shot, from the Musical Hamilton. I actually have not seen it but a parody of it on tv recently made me want to hear the original

Rise up 
I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory
When’s it gonna get me?
In my sleep, seven feet ahead of me?
If I see it comin’, do I run or do I let it be?
Is it like a beat without a melody?

   -My Shot, Hamilton Musical

The cancer journey has never been a delightful one. Choosing to be involved and public has come at a high emotional cost because without exception at the events mentioned and others there have been people who I've met who are no longer with us. Some of them are in the exact media as I am, some of them were cancer free at the time. One of them died the night before Boston. One of them died on November 5. George Clooney of all people said that that's a challenge of life, you're either closer to death or you're having to bury many of your friends. I've moved past part of some Clooney elements of my life, choosing to at least give better bonding a try but I can relate to that. 

I am grateful to have had connections and make new ones that made me focus on the living, both my own and those here. It's good to give nods to those who have come before us, to remember the connection to those who got to the finish line before us. It's likely healthy as well to acknowledge that our own finish line will come and that it's distance is not as predictable as those at events. It is perhaps why those particular lines jumped out at me that I've spent so much time imagining death that it feels more like a memory? If I see it coming do I run or do I let it be, is it like a beat without a melody? I have a damaged memory so I'm thankful the concept of dying and that damage keeps making me want to make some new memories. And I used to be in a marching band and a fair share of the time the drums were the only ones playing. However some of those times were an introduction to start the music even if it would be the exact same beats that would play at the end of the song.
I've long called this cancer journey life Part II. I've met cancer survivors who for whatever reason disconnect from their pre cancer life and that's their call. Mine is not a new life, it's a sequel and I can't think of any good sequels that didn't keep some of the original connections, make new ones and work character development. 

However we acknowledge the day of the dead and Halloween, I hope it's never a way to make up for opportunities to easily available while f fully alive. So I'll keep aging, raging, rising up in the hope that however few or many days of life with cancer are left that I have not thrown away my shot. 

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